Most people drive this route now as a nostalgic trip into the history of America through the wars, depressions and against the biggest challenge of the modern world – industrialism. It was officially decommissioned in 1984 and is now designated the Historic Route 66.
The original road, also known as the ‘Main Street of America’ ran 2400 miles east to west, from Chicago to Los Angeles and was one of the country’s first transcontinental highways. The destinations on this route have had endless films and songs written them and whilst it is no longer a complete route, you can still definitely still ‘get your kicks on Route 66’.
Full of kitsch 1950’s and 60’s memorabilia, take time to seek out the oversized random objects such as rocking chairs, Muffler Men (used to advertise all manner of things in the 50’s) and a ketchup bottle to name a few alongside the neon lights and traditional American Diners, abandoned filling stations and art displays, all of which are small reminder of how life on this crucial road network once was.
Chicago, Illinois – the birthplace of skyscrapers and worthy of a few nights. You will barely see another high rise building until you reach St Louis, approximately 300 miles away.
Built on the banks of the Mississippi River, St Louis offers French heritage, paddle steamers and a relaxing jazz and blues music scene, this city town has a lot to offer and is again worthy of a couple of nights. Take a detour through the Ozark Mountains to Branson, deep in the heart of Americas Bible Belt on your way to Oklahoma.
The home of almost every cowboy film ever made, Oklahoma offers the most driveable miles of the original route and the towns along the way embrace their heritage. Stop in Elk City for the official National Route 66 Museum before heading into the Texas panhandle. Responsible for approximately 30% of the USA’s beef production and 40% of its oil production, Texas is a thriving state with vast plains and definitely the best place to eat steak.
New Mexico offers a more diverse landscape as you approach Arizona, with its sandstone mesas and pine forests. Take time to visit Santa Fe – one of Americas most un-American small cities with its Pueblo style architecture, Native American influence and an extensive art culture.
Even without Route 66 to distract you, Arizona would entertain you for weeks on end but you can easily reach some of the best parts of Route 66 from the main I-40 highway. Oatman is one such place – an old mining town that was deserted leaving only the donkeys behind. The donkeys survived and now their ancestors roam the streets of the small town. Touristy but fun.
Over 300 miles of the original road (some of which is also known as National Old Trails Highway) will take you through the Mojave Desert past Elmers Bottle Tree Ranch and over the San Gabriel Mountains and valleys to the final destination Santa Monica.